Women's Euros: Will tournament leave a lasting legacy for female football in England?

  • Andy Ward looks at whether England's run in the Euros is inspiring a generation

Come 5pm on Sunday, households up and down the country will be glued to their TV screens to see if England's women's football team can create history.

The final against Germany at Wembley is likely to be watched by tens of millions.

When the team swept Sweden aside in their thrilling 4-0 victory at Bramall Lane, the game attracted a peak TV audience of 9.3 million viewers - making it one of the most watched TV broadcasts this year and testament to just how far the women's game has come in recent years.

There was a time when interest would have been minimal, but this year's Women's Euros has captured the imagination of the British public like no other female tournament before.

Regardless of whether the Lionesses win or not, the Euros has been a huge success, with more than half a million tickets having been sold for the tournament - more than double the previous record set in the Netherlands five years ago.

England captain Leah Williamson. Credit: PA

England will play Sunday's showpiece final in front of a capacity crowd of 87,000 - another record for a women's football match.

Arsenal defender Leah Williamson will have the honour of leading England out as captain and her journey from Milton Keynes schoolgirl to the very pinnacle of the female game is serving as a huge inspiration to children in her home city.

Milton Keynes was chosen as one of 10 host venues for the tournament, with Stadium MK hosting the second semi-final between France and Germany on Wednesday in front of a sell-out crowd.

Fan parties in Milton Keynes have been a big success. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Among the crowds who've been attending some of the games right on their doorstep are young girls from Milton Keynes, many of whom dreaming of playing in such an occasion themselves one day.

It marks a big shift in aspirations compared to previous generations who wrongly believed that football was only for boys.

"People in my school have said that girls can't play football and it inspires me to be a footballer. I really want to be a footballer when I grow up," one girl told ITV News Anglia.

Another one said: "I think they're just really inspirational and it just helps little girls like us know that we can do anything that we want."

Women's Euros 2022

What are the main goals of the tournament?

- To create equal access for girls to play football in schools and clubs.

- To secure 300 new FA-qualified female coaches, and 350 new FA-qualified female referees.

- To establish an inclusive environment for every girl and woman to play.

- To ensure 120,000 more girls play football regularly in schools.

- To inspire 20,000 more women to play football for fun, friendship and fitness and 7,000 more to play competitively for grassroots clubs.

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Girls taking part in the recent county finals event in Milton Keynes were able to get a glimpse of the Women's Euros trophy. Credit: ITV News Anglia

The biggest challenge for football decision-makers in Milton Keynes, and other host cities and towns, is how to ensure that enthusiasm continues well after the tournament has finished.

In Milton Keynes, a number of goals have been set - including developing more competitive and recreational opportunities for girls aged 5-11 to play football, and increasing the number of schools delivering girls’ football inside and outside the curriculum.

Girls from Hamilton Academy during a recent girls football tournament in Milton Keynes. Credit: ITV News Anglia

"Big tournaments like this are massive, especially when they come to the home country because people are inspired," said Alex Pratt, from the Berks & Bucks FA.

"Children can go and watch these big players, their role models, and they can get inspired. They can then have a try and see if it works out for them."

Charly Smith, from MK College, is among those who wants to go into coaching. Credit: ITV News Anglia

As well as playing opportunities, Football Associations are keen to raise awareness of other roles in football such as refereeing or coaching.

In Milton Keynes, Sheffield, and Southampton, the ambitious target is to double the number of FA-qualified female coaches and referees in those areas.

Whether it's playing, coaching, refereeing, or even a position away from the pitch, the message is that female football has never been as accessible, or as welcoming, as it is now.

"It means that they (female players) actually have an end goal which probably 12 years ago, when there wasn't full-time footballers, they didn't really have anything to work towards," Charlie Bill, who runs a female football programme at MK College, said.

"I think now they have real inspiration from what's going on across the country."

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